VATICAN CITY, 16 JUN 2010 (VIS) – In his catechesis during this morning’s general audience, Benedict XVI continued his presentation of the figure of St. Thomas Aquinas, “a theologian of such importance that the study of his works was explicitly recommended by Vatican Council II”, he said. He also recalled how in 1880 Leo XIII declared him as patron of Catholic schools and universities.
The Pope noted how Thomas Aquinas focused on the distinction between philosophy and theology. This was because in his time, in the light of Aristotelian and Platonic thought on the one hand, and the philosophy of the Church Fathers on the other, “the burning question was whether … a philosophy elaborated without reference to Christ and the world of faith, and that elaborated bearing Christ and the world of faith in mind, were compatible or mutually exclusive”.
“Thomas”, the Holy Father explained, “was firmly convinced that they were compatible, and that the philosophy elaborated without Christ was awaiting only the light of Jesus in order to be made complete. The novelty of Thomas, what determined his path as a thinker, was this: to demonstrate the independence of philosophy and theology, and at the same time their inter-relation”.
For the “Doctor Angelicus”, the Pope went on, “faith consolidates, integrates and illuminates the heritage of truth acquired by human reason. The trust St. Thomas places in these two instruments of knowledge (faith and reason) can be explained by his conviction that both come from a single wellspring of truth, the divine Logos which works in the area of both creation and redemption”.
Having established the principle of reason and faith, St. Thomas makes it clear that they follow different cognitive processes: “Reason accepts a truth by virtue of its intrinsic evidence, either mediated or direct; faith, on the other hand, accepts a truth on the basis of the authority of the revealed Word of God”.
“This distinction ensures the autonomy of the human sciences, … and the theological sciences. However this does not mean a separation; rather, it implies mutual and advantageous collaboration. Faith, in fact, protects reason from any temptation to mistrust in its own capacities and stimulates it to open itself to ever broader horizons”.
“Reason too, with the means at its disposal, can do something important for faith, offering it a triple service which St. Thomas summarises thus: … ‘demonstrating the foundations of faith; using similitudes to explain the truth of faith; rebuffing the objections that arise against the faith’. The entire history of Christian theology is, in the final analysis, the exercise of this duty of the intellect, which shows the intelligibility of the faith, its inner structure and harmony, its reasonableness and its capacity to promote the good of man.
“The correctness of theological reasoning and its true cognitive significance is based on the value of theological language which, according to St. Thomas, is principally a language of analogy”, the Pope added. “Analogy recognises shared perfections in the created world and in God”. Thomas based his doctrine of analogy, “not only on purely philosophical arguments, but also on the fact that, with the revelation, God Himself spoke to us and, thus, authorised us to speak about Him”.
The Holy Father highlighted the importance of this doctrine which, he said, “helps us overcome certain objections raised by modern atheism which denies that religious language possesses objective meaning and holds that it only has a subjective or merely emotional value. In the light of the teachings of St. Thomas, theology affirms that, however limited, religious language does have meaning”.
St. Thomas’ moral theology retains great relevance in its affirmation that “the theological and moral virtues of man are rooted in human nature”, said Pope Benedict. “Divine Grace accompanies, supports and encourages ethical commitment but, according to St. Thomas, all men and women, believers and non-believers, are of themselves called to recognise the requirements of human nature as expressed in natural law, and to draw inspiration therefrom when formulating positive law; that is, the laws produced by civil and political authorities to regulate human society.
“When natural law and the responsibility it implies are denied,” he added, “the way is thrown dramatically open to ethical relativism at an individual level, and to totalitarianism at a political level. Defending the universal rights of man and affirming the absolute value of the dignity of the person presupposes a foundation: and is not this foundation natural law, with the non-negotiable values it contains?”.
“Thomas”, the Holy Father concluded, “presents us with a broad and trusting view of human reason. Broad, because it is not limited to the area of empirical-scientific reason but open to all of existence and therefore also to the fundamental and inescapable questions of human life; trusting, because human reason, especially if it welcomes the inspiration of Christian faith, promotes a civilisation which recognises the dignity of the person, the inviolability of his rights and the cogency of his duties”.
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